This is just a little something I hurriedly put together for the latest SN.TV fanfic challenge. There were several prompts and I chose 'Sam's acceptance to Stanford'. As it was a bit of a rush job, apologies for any bad grammar/spelling. No beta so all mistakes are my own.

Disclaimer: I don't own Supernatural or the Winchesters, darn it.

Left Behind

Nervousness swills in Sam's gut causing the grilled chicken salad sandwich he ate for dinner to churn dangerously. He sucks in a steadying breath and tears open the envelope gripped tightly in his sweating hands. He unfolds the letter and sits down on the hard steps of their apartment's rickety porch to read it.

Jesus, I've been accepted. For a long time, Sam simply stares at the letter, reading it over and over until the words begin to swim in front of his eyes. At long last he folds the letter, smoothing the edges into careful quarters and slips it into his button-down shirt pocket, unconsciously placing it over his heart.

It's a cold night and a gleaming full moon hangs in a cloudless starry sky. Sam can see the Impala parked on the gravel driveway, bathed in milky moonlight. He smiles to himself as he looks at her. He desperately wants to take her for a drive. Wants to hurtle down the highway, wind down the windows and scream until his throat is raw that he's not going to live in the shadows anymore. He's going to be part of the world instead of a spectator with his face pressed against the glass looking in.

Sam can finally have normal, his slice of the apple pie life and it's the one solid thing he's dared to let himself dream about. But normal comes at a price. Normal will cost him his family. Sam's hand rises to pat at the outline of the folded letter sitting in his pocket. Sam knows the letter will rip apart the already fragile relationship he has with his father. He's been testing his dad for sometime now, straining against John's hold over him, weakening the bond. God, he doesn't want things to be this way, he wants to leave with his dad's blessing but that's never going to happen. Sam loves the man fiercely but he doesn't love, share or even fully comprehend his dad's obsession with hunting.

His mother's death is at the core of his father's quest for revenge, Sam knows that much. But for Sam his mother is a smiling face in a photograph, a beautiful blonde in a childhood bedtime story whispered from Dean's lips. Sam doesn't remember her. She died trying to protect him, for that he will be eternally grateful and it's not that he doesn't want justice for the loss of her life but it's been almost eighteen years. Eighteen years, which his father has spent killing anything and everything supernatural which has crossed their path and they're no closer now to finding out what evil monster murdered her than they were all those years ago.

"Sammy?" Dean's voice abruptly cuts through Sam's thoughts.

Sam startles and jerks his head around to see Dean leaning with his back resting against the doorframe, casually dangling a beer bottle by its neck from between his fingers. Sam frowns up at his big brother but he's relieved it's Dean standing there and not his dad who had just witnessed how sloppy and off-guard he was, absorbed by his dreams of Stanford.

Dean smirks amused by the momentary surprise which had flashed across Sam's face. "Little jumpy there kiddo. What you doing out here anyway? It's brass monkey weather dude."

"Just getting some fresh air is all." Sam smiles back but the smile falters and his chest tightens as he looks at his big brother and wonders how he can bear to leave Dean.

Dean's brow crinkles. Dean can read Sam like a book. He knows Sam word for word, cover to cover and little brother is hiding something. Dean shrugs and lifts the bottle to his lips taking a mouthful. "Dad says we've got thirty minutes to get geared up before we head out."

Sam feels his heart sink like a lead balloon. He's had nothing but Stanford on his mind since he picked up the letter from their post office box that afternoon. He'd forgotten all about the hunt planned for tonight. "Does dad know you're drinking beer before a hunt?" Sam snipes, unable to hide his lack of enthusiasm.

"Lighten up Grandma; I've only had one beer. Anyway if you ask me, it looks like you're the only Winchester off their game tonight. Maybe if you listened to dad and spent more time training instead of gazing at the stars…Hey, you writing poetry out here or something?"

Sam feels his temper boil. "Screw you Dean." He spits, quickly standing up and pushing past his older brother back into the warmth of their apartment. He feels Dean's hand grab his shoulder and he's spun back round to face his brother.

"Hey. What the hell is wrong with you? You've had your panties in a bunch over something all day, what's with the hissy fit?"

"Nothing. Nothing's wrong." Sam yanks himself free from Dean's grip and stalks off towards his bedroom, ignoring the concerned expression on Dean's face.

In the quiet of the small bedroom, Sam sinks onto the corner of his bed and rubs at his eyes with the back of his hand. He didn't mean to take things out on Dean. He leaving Dean behind after all, Dean's the one who should be tearing strips off him not the other way around. Sam reaches under his bed and pulls out his Glock, efficiently checking the firing mechanism and ensuring the gun is loaded before slipping it into the back of his jeans.

With a deep sigh, Sam gets up from the bed and walks over to the desk in the corner of the room to take a quick look at the numerous maps spread out haphazardly upon it. There's an Ozark Howler Sam needs to help kill before the night is through and in any case, Stanford isn't going anywhere but soon enough, Sam certainly will be.

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The mountain trail is steep, treacherously uneven and Sam finds himself struggling to find decent footing even with the aid of a flashlight. They've been walking for hours and if Sam lifts his head to gaze ahead instead of at his cautious steps, he can see his dad striding swiftly up the path a few hundred yards in front of him. Dean is keeping pace behind Sam, probably struggling as much as his brother is considering all the cursing Sam can hear. Sam can't deny that it feels good having Dean watching his back but it's a bittersweet comfort with the knowledge that he'll be living without his big brother's protection in next to no time at all.

As he mulls over exactly how he's going to go about breaking the news to Dean, Sam stumbles on the rocky terrain, a strong hand quickly plants itself on his lower back, gently preventing his fall before mischievously giving him a hard shove, urging him forwards again.

Another hour of painstaking hiking passes before John finally calls them to a halt. The brothers are tired and short of breath, whilst John barely seems to have broken a sweat. "Boys we need to split up so that we have all sides of the Howler's lair covered. If I'm right about this, its lair should be just a short distance from this trail, up through the trees. Sam you stay here in case it tries to make a break for open land. Dean, you go further up the trail and I'll head for the lair, see if I can't pay our friend a nice little house call. " John waits for his sons to check their weapons are primed before he gives them a parting wave and disappears from the trail into the thickly tangled brush.

Dean glances at Sam, taking in his brother's forlorn expression. "Chin up Sammy, remember if it bleeds we can kill it."

"Dean, that's a lame quote from an even lamer movie."

"Wash your mouth out, 'Predator' totally rules."

"Whatever you say Schwarzenegger."

Dean grins broadly and winks at Sam, "be careful little brother." And with that he turns and walks away following the winding trail.

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A little time passes and Sam waits, alert and ready. He glances down at his watch noticing that it's almost 5am. The sky is rapidly lightening; early cracks of a brilliant orange dawn are starting to break through the gloom.

Sam reaches once more for the letter stored in his pocket but pauses and his head shoots up as he hears a rustling sound. A blur of movement through the long grass up ahead of Sam catches his eye and suddenly, there's a tall shadowy figure moving in his direction. As the figure gets closer, Sam can see that it's not his father or brother but the creature they had set out to kill.

The Howler is easily as big as a bear but its face is inherently wolf like, with a long snout and wicked yellow slanted eyes. Covered in matted black shaggy hair with two prominent horns rising from the top of its head, it's as intimidating as Sam feared it would be. Intimidating and unmistakably deadly.

Sam pulls out his gun and fires, the bullet hits the Howler in the shoulder but the creature doesn't drop. Worryingly, the bullet only seems to really piss the Howler off. With a bellowing roar unlike anything Sam's ever heard before and with lightening speed, the Howler rushes forward on two deceptively stout legs and launches itself at Sam.

The force of the Howler's body hits Sam viciously, knocking the air from his lungs as he falls hard onto the ground, his gun knocked from his hands. Sam squeezes his eyes shut and crinkles his nose as hot fetid breath washes over his face. The Howler has him pinned beneath its huge bulk and if death is coming, Sam prays it takes him quickly.

Without hesitation, sharp claws slash at Sam's chest, ripping through his thick jacket as though it were made of rice paper. The claws slice deep gashes into his skin and blood bubbles to the surface of the wounds. Uncomfortably sticky and warm, the blood streams down Sam's chest pooling onto his stomach, staining the waistband of his jeans a rich deep red. Sam quickly begins to feel light-headed, his racing heart and pumping adrenalin doing little apart from making his blood loss all the more rapid. With his fingers scrabbling at the parched earth, Sam does the only thing he can think of. He grabs up a handful of dirt and hurls it at the Howler's eyes. The creature shrieks, temporarily blinded and Sam pulls himself out from underneath its powerful body as it rears backward clawing at its face.

Sam drags himself along the ground, leaving a bloody trail in the dirt. "Dean!" Sam shouts urgently for back up. He can see the edge of a ravine, in the murkiness of early dawn it's impossible to tell how deep the ravine goes but he's running out of options. The beast is growling, a terrible low rumble in its throat that sends a cold shiver running down Sam's spine.

"SAM?"

Sam hears Dean's answering shout, it's a faint yell carried by the wind but still instantly recognizable. Although the voice brings a sense of relief, his brother sounds too far away. And Sam realizes bitterly that Dean's not going to get to him in time, not unless his brother can sprout wings and fly.

The pain in his chest is immense and Sam swallows back the urge to throw up, flailing in a puddle of his own vomit isn't going to do him much good right now. The Howler is advancing towards him again; luminous yellow eyes fixed on its prey. A plump pink tongue running back and forth along the edges of razor sharp teeth, saliva dribbles from the corners of its mouth and drips from the creatures chin.

Sam spares one more anxious glimpse over the lip of the ravine before he rolls himself, so that his body tumbles over the edge. Sam plunges down into darkness. There's dull pain as branches scratch at his exposed skin and then sharp white pain as his body strikes against a rock. Finally he lands in a crumpled heap at the bottom of the ravine where he lays quiet and unmoving. Somewhere high above Sam's lifeless body, the Howler lets out a long piteous cry, mourning the loss of its meal.

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"SAM?" Dean shouts out for a second time. Unconcerned whether or not his yells will alert the Howler to his position. He holds his breath, heart pounding, as he listens for Sam's reply but there's nothing and a terrible stab of fear pushes Dean to hurry on back down the trail.

As he runs, Dean becomes aware of movement coming from his left side. He lifts his shotgun and braces himself for an attack. John appears crashing through the trees, his eyes ridiculously wide with panic. "Dean. Thank god you're okay. I had that son of a bitch in my sights but it must have doubled-back on me... " John stops and glances behind Dean before looking back at his eldest son. "Where's Sam?"

"I don't know. Dad, I heard a gunshot and Sam yelling for me. Do you think he's..." An unearthly cry echoes in the air around them stunning Dean into silence and they both take off running in the direction of the horrifying sound.

It's Dean who is the first to spot the blood. A sickening trail of red droplets, mixed in amongst the dirt and dead leaves, leading to the edge of a ravine. Dean pulls out his flashlight and lets the beam explore the ravine's depths. The soft yellow circle of light travels across the ground before finally revealing a pair of legs. Dean moves the flashlight, slowly illuminating the rest of a motionless form strewn on the ground. Sam.

Dean drops his flashlight and screams.

"Careful son, take it steady." Dean can hear John's urgent words as he slips and slides his way down the side of ravine, but he can't make himself go any slower. He just has to get to Sam.

As he reaches his brother, Dean drops to his knees. Sam is laid face down, one of his arms bent at an unnatural angle and his clothes are bloodied and torn. A sob erupts from Dean's throat as he carefully rolls Sam onto his back. The gashes on Sam's chest are still bleeding sluggishly and Dean quickly yanks off his jacket and presses it against the wounds. Sam's pale face is filthy with dirt and blood, Dean does his best to wipe the grime away with a shaking hand before resting two fingers at Sam's neck. There's a pulse, it's rapid but strong. Dean is so entirely amazed to feel something that he leaves his fingers resting there as though he needs the steady beat as reassurance that he's not crazy and Sam really is still alive.

"Sam?" John's at Dean's side now and his voice is uncharacteristically gentle as he runs a hand through his youngest son's hair. Sam's eyes slowly open and his lips part as he smiles with bloodstained teeth at the spectacle of the worried faces of his father and brother leaning over him. All at once both safe and protected, Sam lets his eyes slip closed again.

"Christ...Sammy, can't you stay outta trouble for five minutes." Dean mutters angrily but there's no weight behind it, just honest to god relief.

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Dean stands watching Sam sleeping peacefully in his bed, his chest is heavily bandaged and his right arm rests in a sling. Dean begins shoving his brother's ruined clothes into a plastic bag but pauses with Sam's torn shirt in his hands. There's something in the pocket and Dean reaches in and removes a creased, blood-smeared letter. The Stanford logo is still visible despite the damage and Dean's fingers are quickly unfolding the piece of paper.

He reads each word before folding it and placing it safely in the top draw of the cabinet by Sam's bed.

Sam opens his eyes to find Dean staring at him. "Is it that bad?" Sam asks lifting his head to peer at the tight bandages wrapped around his injured chest.

"It's bad." Dean nods absently before noticing Sam's expression, "not the wounds Sammy, it's just—"

"Is it dad? Is dad hurt?"

"No, dad's fine. He headed back out once he knew you were going to be okay. He rang a little while ago to tell me he nailed the sucker with a silver bullet dipped in holy water. He's on his way back now."

"Then what is it Dean?"

Dean's expression is shuttered and Sam grimaces as he tries to pull himself into a sitting position. "Why didn't you tell me you're leaving?" Dean whispers.

Sam lets himself drop back onto his pillow. "Dean, I was going to tell you. I only found out I'd been accepted just before we left on the hunt."

"It's not safe Sammy."

"Not safe?" Sam's voice rises minutely. "You call this safe? Dean, we're risking our lives every day man. We've not been safe for a long time."

"That's not what I mean and you know it. Who's going to watch your back, look out for you?"

"You're always telling me it's time I grew up, became a man."

"I didn't mean like this."

"Leaving you...leaving dad, it's going to be the hardest thing I've ever had to do but I need this Dean, I really need it. I'll never ask anything of you ever again just please, please, let me go."

Dean looks at his little brother. At the bandages spotted with fresh blood, the pale face complete with matching black smudges underneath a pair of half-mast cloudy eyes. Sam reaches out a hand and Dean takes it, helping his brother up from the bed. Dean wraps an arm around Sam's waist and carefully guides his unsteady brother out of the bedroom and into the lounge, where he lowers Sam down onto the couch. "You'll regret it Sam."

"It's my mistake to make."

Dean looks away from Sam, resigned. "Fine, I'll not stand in your way but dad is going to throw a fit."

Sam smiles but it's half-formed and lacklustre. "Maybe I can play the wounded card, go for the sympathy vote."

Dean snorts as he grabs for the bottle of Tylenol on the coffee table and starts unscrewing the lid. "It is our dad you're talking about right? You'll be lucky."

Sam accepts the two pills offered to him and dry swallows them. Dean protects him from a lot of things. Sam knows that and loves Dean for it and he can tell right now that his older brother is protecting him once again; however this time, Dean is protecting Sam by burying his devastation. "Dean. If it makes you feel any better, I'll miss you man."

Dean's eyebrows rise, "it doesn't." Sam's face drops and Dean quickly adds, "but thanks, and you'd better write some damn good postcards bitch. Hey, I'll be wanting photos too...of the girls locker room. Mmm college girls. You never know Sam, even you might get lucky."

The sound of the Impala's engine draws both brothers' into a stony silence and they exchange a knowing look as they turn to face the door and wait with bated breath for their father's arrival.

-end-

Hope this doesn't seem like too abrupt an ending. I guess I felt like we all know how the news went down with John Winchester...erm and I was starting to get to the story length limit.